Jones Act Waiver Extended After Hurricane Irma

The Jones Act is no doubt the backbone of our entire industry. A series of laws designed, in part, to make sure any commercial shipping done within American waterways is done on American-made vessels using entirely American crews, the Jones Act is the center of trade, commerce, and employment on the waters of America.

And in many ways, the Jones Act is designed to provide for more than just its workers. Jones Act vessels have appeared during many tragedies and natural disasters to provide needed relief and supplies to hard-hit areas, such as southern states encountering damage from floods and hurricanes.

In times of extreme crisis, however, the US government has seen fit to temporarily suspend or place waivers on the Jones Act to allow for additional, non-Jones Act vessels to provide needed supplies to hard-hit areas. The last time this occurred was in December 2012 after Hurricane Sandy ravaged much of the Eastern Seaboard, and vessels not adhering to the Jones Act were called upon to provide fuel, food, and other supplies to areas affected by flooding and storms.

Earlier this year, in response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in Florida, the Department of Homeland Security introduced a waiver to the Jones Act that temporarily suspended its requirements. While an initial fleet of 18 Jones Act vessels were dispatched to provide relief to Florida, the Department of Homeland Security would enact and later lengthen a temporary waiver to allow vessels not meeting the standards of the Jones Act to transport goods to areas affected by Hurricane Irma.

On its face, this was purely done as a humanitarian effort, allowing Jones Act vessels to work alongside their “qualified” brethren to provide needed fuel, food, and other provisions to an area wracked with destruction. The ban is set to be in place until September 22 to allow for cargo to finish their journey to the American southeast, primarily Florida.

In the short term this waiver should have no ill effects – after all, similar waivers have been placed in the past, and as soon as they were expired it was largely business as usual for Jones Act vessels across the country. But it does bring about the old discussion, as it has in the past, about whether or not the Jones Act should be repealed.

As of right now the Jones Act is in no immediate danger, but we all need to be on our guard: the more events like this happen, the more chances the same old hawks will get to trot out their arguments about how the Jones Act is negatively affecting the American economy, without any thought given to the workers it affects along the way.

We’re glad Floridians are getting the help they need, but once the waivers are done we need to be on guard to defend the rights we’re provided by the Jones Act, and to ensure all maritime workers are still treated fairly.